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The Godfather ()

"Behind every great fortune there is a crime." -Honoré de Balzac

I just recently started listening to The Ringer's Rewatchable podcast on my dog walks and have been catching up on the back catalogue. There is probably no more rewatched movie ever than The Godfather and the episode on this film and the one on Godfather II are predictably great. The Daughter was home for Christmas break and had never seen either, so we watched The Godfather the other night. Then I, serendipitously found a hardcover copy of the novel at the Thrift Store> I'd not read it in 30 years and the podcasters had mentioned the differences between novel and films so I gave it a reread.

Fifty years after Mario Puzo hit it big with this mega-bestseller, it's easy to forget that the reviews were quite mixed at the time. And the reverence for the films has served to shade the book ever since. All of the critics are quite right that the Johnny Fontaine plot, which is central to the novel, serves no good purpose. The movie, which limits him to a Sinatra-ish cameo, makes a wise choice. And the removal altogether of his sidekick, Nino Valenti, works even better. Likewise, we learn far more about Sonny's love life and the sex organs of both him and his mistress than anyone needed to know.

On the other hand, a surprising number of the best cinematic touches come directly from the novel. The beheading of Khartoum is an obvious instance, but Michael noticing that his hand does not tremble when lighting a cigarette during the hospital assassination attempt and the roaring in his head when he's about to murder Sollazzo and Captain McCluskey translate directly from book to screen. Puzo wrote the screenplay, so the inclusions are unsurprising, but their effectiveness on screen is a tribute to him and Francis Ford Coppola.

Essentially, Puzo penned a potboiler and then Coppola recast it as a Shakespearean tragedy. The latter demands to be taken seriously, while the former demands to be read quickly, preferably at the beach or on a plane. [Though, in a delicious twist of fate, the copy I just bought is from something called the Classics of Modern Literature Series.] Little wonder that critics elevate the film and denigrate the book.

But it strikes me that this swings the pendulum too far. Nevermind that the two "heroes" of the tale--Vito and Michael--are mass murderous gangsters, the rendering of the story on screen are ponderous. The amber lighting, the shadows, the pace, the score, the entire tone are so serious and pretentious that they verge on parody. Indeed, try a simple thought experiment: would the film be just as good as a comedy, if you added a laughtrack? I contend that it would. And if there is always a fine line between comedy and tragedy, it's rarely quite that fine.

In the end, I think we slight Puzo's achievement as a writer. While he often lamented that he would have written a more literary novel if he hadn't quite consciously been trying to produce a money-maker, we ought not underestimate the skill involved in crafting a text that 20 to 30 million people read, many in just a sitting or two. The book has its flaws, but does not deserve to be dismissed.


Grade: (B+)


See also:

Mario Puzo Links:

    -AUTHOR SITE: The Official Mario Puzo Library
    -WIKIPEDIA: Mario Puzo
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Mario Puzo (IMDB)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Godfather (Course Hero)
    -WIKIPEDIA: The Godfather
    -READERS GUIDE: The Godfather Reader’s Guide (Penguin Random House)
    -WIKI: The Godfather Wiki
    -ENTRY: The Godfather NOVEL BY PUZO (Jinan Joudeh, encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -GOOGLE BOOKE: The Godfather
    -PODCAST: ‘The Godfather’ With Bill Simmons, Sean Fennessey, and Chris Ryan (Bill Simmons, Sean Fennessey, and Chris Ryan Jan 8, 2019, The Ringer)
    -PODCAST: ‘The Godfather: Part II’ With Bill Simmons, Sean Fennessey, Chris Ryan, and Brian Koppelman,/a> (Bill Simmons, Sean Fennessey, and Chris Ryan Dec 17, 2019, The Ringer)
-ESSAY: The Godfather Business (Mario Puzo, New York Magazine)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: 'Godfather' Author, the Late Mario Puzo (Terry Gross,, July 25, 1996, Fresh Air)
    -OBIT: Mario Puzo: The author of the Godfather, the book the Mafia loved (Eric Homberger, 4 Jul 1999, The Guardian)
Mario Puzo, who has died aged 78, said of his worldwide, bestselling novel The Godfather: "I wished like hell I'd written it better." Puzo's remarkable success came about because he was broke and determined to write something which would make him money. He had a wife and five children to support.

"I was 45 years old, I owed $20,000 to relatives, finance companies, banks and assorted bookmakers and loan sharks. It was really time to grow up and sell out."

    -OBIT: Mario Puzo, Author Who Made 'The Godfather' a World Addiction, Is Dead at 78 (Mel Gussow, July 3, 1999, NY Times)
    -OBIT: ‘Godfather’ Author Mario Puzo Dies (LARRY McSHANE, July 3, 1999, AP)
    -OBIT: Mario Puzo (LA Times, 7/03/99)
    -OBIT: 'Godfather' Author Mario Puzo Dies (Claudia LevyJuly 3, 1999, Washington Post)
    -PROFILE: How Mario Puzo penned ‘The Godfather’ to get out of debt — and made bank (Reed Tucker, March 2, 2019 , NY Post)
    -PROFILE: MARIO PUZO: GODFATHER OF GODFATHERS (Ian Spelling, 5/08/97, New York Times)
    -TRIBUTE: Mario Puzo (ALBERT MOBILIO, JULY 9, 1999 , Salon)
    -PROFILE: Mario Puzo sees no evil Author: Creator of 'The Godfather' and 'The Last Don' insists he knows nothing about the Mafia. No one believes him. (Fred Bruning, 7/31/96, THE BALTIMORE SUN)
    -PROFILE: The Godmother: The woman who taught Mario Puzo the value of secrecy. (BILL TONELLI, 5/09/03, Slate)
    -ESSAY: Startling truths about ‘The Godfather’ in Mario Puzo archive (David Filipov, February 12, 2016, Boston Globe)
    -ESSAY: The Time Frank Sinatra Berated Mario Puzo For His Assumed Likeness in 'The Godfather' (Ryan Parker, 12/11/15, Hollywood Reporter)
    -ESSAY: Does The Godfather believe in America? (TITUS TECHERA, JUNE 30, 2022, Acton Power Blog)
    -ESSAY: How Gambling Led to the Birth of “The Godfather”: How Mario Puzo wrote a classic novel (TOBIAS CARROLL, 10/24/21, InsideHook)
    -ESSAY: What Puzo Godfathered 40 Years Ago (Allen Barra, Aug. 13, 2009, WSJ)
    -ESSAY: The Irish and the Godfather Mario Puzo (Tom Deignan, Oct 19, 2019, Irish Central)
    -ESSAY: Mario Puzo wrote a sequel to his blockbuster novel “The Godfather” that was based on a real Sicilian outlaw (Domagoj Valjak, 7/01/07, Vintage News)
    -ESSAY: ‘The Godfather’ And Mario Puzo’s Women (ALYSSA ROSENBERG, JAN 28, 2013, thinkProgress)
    -ESSAY: The Real History of The Godfather Movies and Book: The Godfather made history even as it reinterpreted it. We look at the real gangsters who inspired the book and movie. (Tony Sokol, Dec 20, 2019, Den of Geek)
    -ESSAY: LITERARY LONG SHOT: Mario Puzo has hit the jackpot again, but this time with a lemon (JOY WILLIAMS, October 1978, Esquire)
    -ESSAY: How 'The Godfather' Sparked Imagination In Afghanistan (SCOTT SIMON, MAR 9, 2019, NPR: On Point)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVE: Mario Puzo (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of The Godfather by Mario Puzo (Dick Schapp, April 27, 1969, The New York Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Godfather (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of The Godfather (Malcolm Jones, The Daily Beast)
    -REVIEW: of The Godfather (Neetha John, The Week)
    -REVIEW: of The Godfather (James Craver, AllReaders)
    -REVIEW: of The Godfather Tychy)
    -REVIEW: of The Godfather (The Economist)
    -REVIEW: of The Godfather (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of The Godfather (Washington Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Godfather (CHAARVI BADANI , between the Lines)
    -REVIEW: of The Godfather (John Sutherland, Times of London)
    -REVIEW: of The Godfather (Douglas Perry, The Oregonian)
    -REVIEW: of The Godfather (Victoria Holdsworth, On Magazine)
    -REVIEW: of The Godfather (Paul Cantor, Medium)
    -REVIEW: of The Godfather (James Thomas Chiampi, MELUS)
    -REVIEW: of The Last Don by Mario Puzo, Michael wood, London Review of Books)
-FILMOGRAPHY: Francis Ford Coppola (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Mario Puzo (IMDB)
    -IMDB: The Godfather
    -IMDB: The Godfather II
    -METACRITIC: The Godfather
    -ROTTEN TOMATOES: The Godfather
    -PROFILE: 'It changed my life': Francis Ford Coppola reflects on The Godfather book's 50th anniversary (David Canfield, March 05, 2019, EW)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: To Make 'The Godfather' His Way, Francis Ford Coppola Waged A Studio Battle (Terry Gross, November 16, 2016, Fresh Air)
    -ESSAY: Francis Ford Coppola on the Iconic ‘Godfather’ Scenes Mario Puzo Pushed Back On,/a> (Zack Sharf, Mar 6, 2019, Indie Wire)
    -ESSAY: “I Believe in America”: Fifty Years of ‘The Godfather‘ (Graham Daseler, 22 Jul 2022, Quillette)
    -ESSAY: The anniversary of The Godfather: Essays & podcasts on the beginnings of doubt regarding American justice (Titus Techera, Sep 12, 2022, Postmodern Conservative)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: THE WRATH OF CORLEONE (Noah Millman, 4/26/21, Modern age)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Godfather (Hollywood Reporter)
    -REVIEW: of The Godfather (Pauline Kael, The new Yorker)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Godfather (Empire)
    -REVIEW: of The Godfather (Roger Ebert)
    -REVIEW: of The Godfather (Robert Hatch, The Nation)
    -REVIEW: of The Godfather II (Roger Ebert)
    -REVIEW: of The Godfather II (A.D. Murphy, Variety)
    -REVIEW: of The Godfather Notebook by francis Ford Coppola (Michael Heaton, The Plain Dealer)
    -REVIEW: of Leave The Gun, Take the Cannoli: The Epic Story of the Making of the Godfather By Mark Seal (Paul Krause, University Bookman)

Book-related and General Links:

-ESSAY: The Making of “The Godfather”—Sort of a Home Movie (Nicholas Pileggi, August 15, 1971, The New York Times Magazine)
    -ESSAY: The Family Tragedy: In The Godfather, we see the unceasing quest for power destroy the very thing it was meant to protect. (John G. Grove, 9/23/22, Law & Liberty)
-ESSAY: Studio Executives Did Not Want Marlon Brando for the Title Role in ‘The Godfather’: On the film’s 50th anniversary, a Smithsonian historian reflects on the cultural phenomenon of the blockbuster hit (Alice George, 3/16/22, Smithsonian)
    -ESSAY: Mob mentality: Death threats, shootings, strikes and bomb-scares ... John Patterson explains how - and why - the mafia tried to shut down the filming of The Godfather (John Patterson, April 2006, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: The Godfather: Have we misunderstood America's greatest film? (Nicholas Barber, 13th March 2022, BBC)
-ESSAY: The Godfather: high art for the masses: This 50-year-old epic hails from a time when Hollywood made grown-up films for grown-up audiences. (DARRAGH MCMANUS, 14th March 2022, spiked)
    -PROFILE: Francis Ford Coppola’s $100 Million Bet: Fifty years after he gave us The Godfather, the iconic director is chasing his grandest project yet—and putting up over $100 million of his own money to prove his best work is still ahead of him. (ZACH BARON, February 17, 2022, GQ)
    -ESSAY: 'The Godfather' bridged old and new Hollywood to save American moviegoing (Bob Mondello, 3/11/22, NPR)
    -ESSAY: The Godfather at 50: celebrating the mob saga that raised the bar for gangster films (Gill Jamieson, March 11, 2022, The Conversation)
    -TV REVIEW: The Offer (James Delingpole, Spectator)